You have completed your checklist for hiring a food safety consultant. You:
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- Asked your colleagues,
- Reviewed qualifications,
- Interviewed, and
Now, what can you expect before the consultant shows up at your door, when he/she is visiting, and after he/she leaves? There are some key deliverables that should be expected of a consultant despite a myriad of backgrounds, educations, and approaches. This article focuses on the deliverables for a harborage site investigation, but the concepts can also apply to a sanitation or food safety program review.
Quote. Before any travel is planned or documentation shared, obtain a detailed quote of services. Having a signed quote is a good way to start off a relationship with expectations laid out from the beginning. Expect the following.
- Timelines for each service or service type.
- How and who plans travel and how the expenses are charged. How service fees are charged. Some consultants charge extra for weekends, holidays, or hours in excess of 8 per day. Some will charge a lump sum, others a fee per hour. When lump sums are quoted, determine if an accounting of the hours is desired and if so, communicate this up front. If a fee per hour is quoted, ask what happens to the bill if more or less hours are needed for the services.
- Terms of agreement, usually a quote is applicable for 60-90 days from issue.
Non-disclosure agreement (NDA). It is important to know, from both sides, the rules for communication. A mutual NDA is often used to protect both the consultant and the company. Here’s what to expect.
- Categories within the NDA may include a description of what information is considered “confidential,” such as clients, financial documents, employees, HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) plans, photos, and recipes.
- Term of the agreement, typically one year.
- How confidential information is handled and who handles the information.
- Exceptions during legal situations, such as receipt of a subpoena.
- Negotiations not to subcontract work without written consent.
If the consultant does not have a NDA template, then the company may wish to have one drafted by its legal firm or internal counsel and have it available for use. Not always addressed within an NDA, but a helpful discussion to have with a consultant is with whom the consultant can communicate. For example, can the consultant contact external suppliers, such as a contract sanitation firm or lab? It is best if all communication between the consultant and outside firms are conducted with a company representative present. That way, the company understands what transpired and the consultant understands that the company is engaged in the solution.
With the quote and NDA signed and dated, work can begin. It is most often helpful if the consultant can obtain copies of the HACCP plan, plant diagram, and regulatory correspondence prior to a plant visit. General production room and equipment photos are also helpful. That way, a preliminary glimpse into the process, products, and equipment can be studied. Additionally, a review of existing documentation related to any contaminations, such as environmental monitoring data, corrective and preventative actions, customer complaints, or market withdrawals and recalls, can be done prior to the site visit and allows the consultant a glimpse into any recent past or ongoing issues.
Agenda. Ask for an agenda including the personnel needed. Often the agenda will not be followed precisely because tasks can take longer than anticipated, but usually the first day or specified tasks (equipment tear down, sanitation) are the most critical. The agenda will allow for personnel and production scheduling. The agenda should also include a group debrief at the end of each day so the company’s food safety team who were not present during the day’s events are updated on discoveries and the next day’s priorities and agenda.
Harborage Site Investigation
A harborage site investigation involves looking for a source of microbiological contamination in the plant facility. Expect the following during an investigation.